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Friday, November 15, 2013

2013-14 Mens' Basketball Big Ten Preview: N & O

This is the third set of team previews for the Big Ten.  Today I'm breaking down N & O.  It's not pretty.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
Head Coach: Tim Miles
Last Season: 15-18 (5-13), tenth in Big Ten
Graduated: G Dylan Talley, C Brandon Ubel, F Andre Almeida
Transfered: None
Left Early: None
New Faces: Tai Webster, Nathan Hawkins, Nick Fuller
2013 recap: Nebraska entered the season with no expectations and they didn't disappoint.  In fact they may actually have brought a tad bit of excitement to some disillusioned fans.  Predicted to finish dead last in the conference, they fought and clawed their way to a tenth place finish.  They even upset Purdue in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Three starters graduated leaving the roster at its youngest since making the switch from the Big 12.
The Starters:

Pos Players Height Wt Year
PG Tai Webster 6'4" 194  Fr.
G Ray Gallegos 6'2" 182  Sr.
G Shavon Shields 6'7" 219  So.
F Leslee Smith 6'8" 255 Jr.
C Walter Pitchford 6'10" 234 So.

Freshman Tai Webster is the top freshman on the team this season.  He's a recruit from New Zealand and reports say that he's extremely talented on offense. He'll be looked upon to lead the team from the get-go with guard Ray Gallegos suspended.  Gallegos really improved
Gallegos will need to be on the court not
in court to help Nebraska this season.
his numbers as a junior specifically by increasing his scoring by ten points per game.  He's the team's number one option on offense, at least until Webster establishes himself.  Shavon Shields is listed as a guard but is more of an extremely poor man's Toni Kukoc (that is barely a compliment).  If he makes the leap Nebraska may have something here. Leslee Smith is the type of guy you'd like to come off the bench but Nebraska's not quite there yet. He offers good length and can play out of the high post.  Walter Pitchford is a work in progress at the center position. He's a transfer from Florida so he has some talent. He'll need to develop quickly to help the Cornhuskers stay competitive.
The Bench:

F Terran Petteway 6'6" 209 So.
C Kyle Kurowski 6'11" 214 Jr.
G Nathan Hawkins 6'5" 198 Fr.
G Deverell Biggs 6'0" 175 Jr.
G Benny Parker 5'9" 166 So.
G David Rivers 6'7" 198 Jr.
F Nick Fuller 6'6" 199 Fr.

Forward Terran Petteway is my pick for the team's breakout player. Last season as a freshman he was virtually invisible. Now, with a year of experience he should get an opportunity to prove himself. Center Kyle Kurowski will get minutes backing up Pitchford but don't expect him to make much of an impact in the box score.  That's just not his game.  Guards Nathan Hawkins, Benny Parker, Deverell Biggs, and David Rivers will be fighting for playing time amongst themselves.  I'm not sure who the best option is here but expect the winner of this competition to have a prominent role in coach Miles' rotation.  Freshman Nick Fuller may redshirt this season but his size and length are something that have Husker fans intrigued.
2014 Outlook: The two transfers and three freshman recruits are a nice way to get Tim Miles on the right track. These players bring an improved athleticism and overall skill that the previous regime lacked. Plus now Nebraska has a state of the art facility in which to play their games. There will be excitement early but most of it won't be about the team. If things go right they can finish as high as 8th in the conference, I'm just not willing to bet on it.
Projection: 12th in Big Ten

Northwestern Wildcats
Head Coach: Chris Collins
Last Season: 13-19 (4-14), eleventh in Big Ten
Graduated: F Reggie Hearn, F Jared Swopshire, F Alex Marcotullio
Transferred: None
Left Early: G Mike Turner (leave of absence)
New Faces: Sanjay Lumpkin, Nathan Traphorn, Chier Ajou (redshirted)
2013 recap: Talk about a team in disarray.  Injuries absolutely ravaged Northwestern last season with three key players missing chunks of time plus the academic suspension of JerShon Cobb.  The Wildcats were 13-10 and 4-6 in the conference after a home win vs. Purdue on February 2nd. At that point there was talk that the team could earn a sneaky bid into the
Northwestern's roster is so thin this season
you just might see this guy suiting up
if they suffer any significant injuries.
NCAAs with just a few more wins.  Those wins never came. The Wildcats lost their last nine games to finish eleventh in the Big Ten. There wasn't even an NIT bid this time around and coach Carmody was fired as a result.

The Starters:

Pos Players Height Wt Year
G Dave Sobolewski 6'1" 180 Jr.
G JerShon Cobb 6'5" 205 Jr.
G Drew Crawford 6'5" 215 Sr.
F Sanjay Lumpkin 6'6" 210 Fr.
C Alex Olah 7'0" 265 So.


Guard Dave Sobolewski is a decent distributor though he struggles on defense and may be the worst shooter of the starting five.  The team is relying on him to continue to improve his jump shot to help alleviate pressure on the other guards.  JerShon Cobb is the best defender on the team and as a result is asked to guard opponents' best perimeter player.  He's also a decent rebounder but his outside game is a work in progress. Look for him to try to get to the rim to get his points.  Drew Crawford is welcomed back for a fifth season. The Wildcats' only elite scorer, Crawford carries the team on his back at times. His defense will never be considered good though he does put forth good effort.  Sanjay Lumpkin is a steal for Northwestern. The kid can score. He's long enough to shoot over bigger players and he's quick enough to create his own shot.  These are keys for him to be successful since he'll be guarded by larger players every night due to Northwestern's lack of size.  I expect foul trouble to plague him as a freshman for that exact reason, too.  Alex Olah is a legitimate Big Ten center who can both post up and face the basket.  Now entering his sophomore year, he could establish himself as a player to watch as he continues to develop. He'll need to stay out of foul trouble to keep Northwestern from getting killed inside.  This is a solid starting five who can compete in the Big Ten.

The Bench:
F Nathan Taphorn 6'7" 190 Fr.
G Tre Demps 6'2" 193 So.
F Nikola Cerina 6'9" 235 Sr.
F Kale Abrahamson 6'7" 210 So.
F Aaron Liberman 6'10" 215 Sr.
G James Montgomery 6'4" 202 Sr.
C Chier Ajou 7'2" 245 Fr.


While Northwestern's starting five is solid their bench is frankly quite bad.  Freshman Nathan Taphorn is the first man off the bench with Tre Demps not far behind.  I know nothing about Taphorn but do know that Demps can get to the rim occasionally.  Nikola Cerina was underutilized last season and needs to play this year if for no other reason then to add size to the lineup. Kale Abrahamson was a near train-wreck last year - I wanted to avert my eyes but just couldn't. Aaron Liberman is a walk-on of whom I know nothing and Chier Ajou is a raw, undeveloped big man from Sudan.  James Montgomery will add more depth at the guard position.
2014 Outlook:  New coach Chris Collins wants to move away from the Princeton offense but that will prove difficult after having most of the team drilled to the point where setting back picks and spreading the floor is permanently engrained into their heads.  Coach Collins also requires his team play man to man defense which seems like a terrible idea for this undersized, unathletic bunch.  The starting five can compete in the Big Ten, no doubt about it, but the bench will hold this team back.  If, heaven forbid, there are any major injuries to the starters this team will sink fast.
Projection: 10th in Big Ten

Ohio State Buckeyes
Head Coach: Thad Matta
Last Season: 29-8 (13-5), 2nd in Big Ten, lost in Elite 8 to Wichita State.
Graduated: F Evan Ravenel
Transfered: None
Left Early: F Deshaun Thomas
New Faces: Marc Loving (#67), Kam Williams (#80)
2013 recap: Another ho hum season for the Buckeyes last year.  They finished second in the BIG, won the conference tournament, and nearly made the Final Four.  Junior Deshaun Thomas shouldered the load on offense posting a 55% true-shooting percentage and almost never turned the ball over.  Their success in the BIG earned them a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  The Buckeyes were able to march to the Elite Eight before falling to last year's cinderella, Wichita State.  Deshaun
Lenzelle Smith's skills may find him in the NBA next
season. First he'll try to will OSU to another BIG title.
Thomas declared for the NBA where he was selected in the second round by the Spurs.
The Starters:
Pos Players Height Wt Year
PG Aaron Craft 6'2" 195 Sr.
G Shannon Scott 6'1" 185 Jr.
F Lenzelle Smith, Jr. 6'4" 210 Sr.
F LaQuinton Ross 6'8" 220 Jr.
C Amir Williams 6'11" 250 Jr.

Aaron Craft made pretty much every media outlet's preseason Big Ten team. He's a streaky three point shooter and infuriates opponents with his physical defense.  He may foul on every play but he is extremely quick on his feet and his hands are so fast that he's tipping dribbles, passes, and forcing the ball handler to constantly change direction.  If he's able to improve his jump shot he'll be an All American candidate. Last season Shannon Scott was a lock down defender. This season he'll continue to provide excellent defense but he's also been working on his three point shot. He made 33% of his threes last season and any improvement will stretch the defense even more.  Lenzelle Smith, Jr. is the lone starting senior this season.  He also plays very strong defense on the perimeter and can hit the three.  However, he's tended to disappear at times and though he has a well-rounded skill set I don't think he's ever had a game where he just filled up the stat sheet. He'll need to be more consistent this season with the departure of DeShaun Thomas.  Amir Williams has shown flashes of becoming an elite defensive center.  The team will be counting on him to bring it every night as the guards play stifle their opponents on the perimeter.  Offensively, Williams will not be relied on to lead the team in scoring but he can't continue to be a zero either. If his game improves the entire team will improve.
The Bench:
F Sam Thompson 6'7" 200 Jr.
F Marc Loving 6'7" 215 Fr.
F Jake Lorbach 6'7" 210 Jr.
G Amedeo Della Valle 6'5" 190 So.
C Trey McDonald 6'8" 240 Jr.
G Kam Williams 6'2" 175 Fr.
G Andrew Goldstein 6'3" 200 Jr.

Thad Matta is known to have a short bench and as a result several of these players won't see any PT.  Sam Thompson will be looked to provide offense off the bench.  A big bodied forward, Thompson can really shoot and knows how to get to the line.  Marc Loving won the Mr. Basketball award in Ohio last season and will also need to provide key minutes especially with no great options in the post after Amir Williams. Jake Lorbach is returning despite not getting much playing time last season.  His minutes may improve but he still blends in too much and does not assert himself.  Della Valle is the backup point guard the home fans dread coming into the game.  He'll need to improve his shooting to get many minutes.  Trey McDonald is the second biggest guy on the team and the backup center by default.  Don't expect to play much unless Amir Williams is in foul trouble.  Freshman Kam Williams is plenty talented but with Matta's tight rotation and three guards ahead of him, minutes will be tough to earn.  Goldstein is simply a deep bench option.
2014 Outlook: That Matta may be the most underrated coach in the Big Ten.  He's consistently able to replace top end talent and every year competes for a Big Ten championship.  Deshaun Thomas may be gone but the rest of the starters return.  I predict they finish at worst fourth in the Big Ten and if any team besides MSU wins the conference tournament it'll be these guys.  The one concern for me is rebounding. If they're able to maintain their level of rebounding from previous seasons this team will be fine. Otherwise there will be some maddening moments.
Projection: tied for 3rd in Big Ten, #3 seed in NCAA Tournament
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